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* * * Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Computer Corporation is a master of deep green leadership. His organization is famous for aligning resources with strategy and leads its industry with power and authority. In his memoirs Dell emphasizes how important it is for all employees to understand organizations value creation strategy and to realize that their rewards are related to actions that directly support this strategy. "We explained specifically how everyone could contribute.... And we make it core of our incentive compensation plan for all employees.2" At Dell Computer, power and authority, not to mention impressive returns over many years, were direct result of deep green leadershipSM programs that provided clarity and alignment about resource flows.
These stories demonstrate power of deep green leadership and its impact on people, whether in a division or across firm. When leadership operates to reinforce people's deeply held sense fairness with respect to resources and their access to them, they are empowered. This energizes them, so that everyone organizes collective effort, not just a few people at top of pyramid.
The Story Part 2: Resolution When Lynn arrived in his office, he immediately asked some tough questions. "How well do people understand their decision authority? and do they understand how our business works? how resources flow and decisions are made? Are we passionate that everyone has tools and resources they need to do their jobs? Do we critically review project plans and budgets and make sure everyone controls resources they need? Do people feel they share in our collective success? How does situation compare with six months ago? How engaged are our people?
These were difficult questions, but ones that could be answered. The process took several weeks, but once data was gathered and preliminary analysis was completed, trend was clear—leadership activity aimed at clarifying resource distribution flows in organization, deep green leadershipSM activity, had fallen off in organization.
When he had these answers, Lynn called his leadership team together to share findings and express his concerns. "We seem to have lost our edge," he said. "I don't see same level of self-motivation and energy in our people that I did six months ago. Data showing reduced activity levels in this area across firm support my belief that there is cause for concern. Our leadership velocitySM in areas of resources, decision authority and reward distribution has dropped off. To be strong company we need to be, we have to do better."
The team had a difficult time at first, uncomfortable that all members of organization could ever feel they were being treated fairly and had what they needed to do their jobs. It seemed a bit ambitious and perhaps naïve to believe everyone could be made to think organization was fair in its resource distribution. "Life isn't fair", some managers argued.
What began as a one-hour discussion, continued into evening. Follow-up meetings were held with a much broader array of leaders. It became clear from interaction that even among leadership, there was a sense that there was an unevenness or arbitrariness in decision making, and tellingly, that this was okay. Renewal was needed. As Lynn knew, it had already begun.
In course of discussion, it was agreed that a key objective over next six months was to greatly clarify decision-making authorities and resource flows across organization. Each group agreed to work within their teams to clarify and document their value creation strategies and decision making process at all levels of their organization. Monthly town meetings were planned with sole focus on how firm did business, what drove success and how each person's work fit into process. In parallel, compensation programs of firm were reviewed and communication plans developed to further everyone's understanding of how resources were used and distributed in organization. The process cascaded into organization until a consistent and clear picture of business began to emerge across organization. The quarterly cultural survey in use was modified to include targeted questions to provide on-going feedback.
After six months, results of this initiative were documented in a new section of on firm's employee website. As appropriate, aspects were also integrated into organizations planning process thus providing much greater clarity and visibility to into process. All managers were asked to communicate process with their teams and provide feedback. After several months, changes to process dwindled to a manageable level, and enthusiasm was up. Excitement was evident and morale was improving.
To close out cycle of leadership, Lynn asked his teams to propose ways to be proactive, with continuous feedback and action. He realized that leadership requires discipline and vigilance and that nothing works forever. At same time, he didn't want to wait for same problem to surface again.
Epilogue On a recent visit to same sales office he had visited earlier, Lynn shared a ride with a sales manager who was also heading to airport. He found it was a good opportunity to learn what a junior manager was thinking and how she thought about organization. "You know", she said a bit timidly, "I'm glad to know you're sharing your ride to airport. We are pretty close to hitting out stretch objective this quarter and we need to save every dime we can. I'm hoping to have a little extra spending money at Disney World this spring!"
As he pulled his luggage from trunk with a loud "thump!", Lynn smiled to himself. He was happy to share his car if it helped her have a little more fun with her family. She deserved it. _____________________________________
1Burgelman, R.A. (1991). Intra-organizational ecology of strategy making and organizational adaptation: Theory and field research. Organization Science, 2(3), 239-262.
2Dell, Michael with Catherine Fredman. (1999) Direct from Dell: Strategies that revolutionized an industry. New York; Harper Business. p.135.
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